Asif Zardari can be, and has been, accused of many things. But even his most ardent of supporters — Fauzia Wahab, anyone? — wouldn’t suggest he can deliver a speech to save his life. Monday was Zardari’s third time in front of a joint session of parliament and while it wasn’t quite the charm, he didn’t make as much of a hash of it as before either. Thirty-three minutes of relatively smooth delivery suggest someone in the president’s circle has managed to get him to rehearse. Or was it his audience? The parliament that once echoed with the legendary chants of ‘Go, baba, go’ (GIK) and witnessed the PML’s vitriol against Farooq Leghari saw a tame show yesterday. From the visitors’ gallery, set a few feet above the floor of the National Assembly, the place can look like a posh gladiator ring. But there were no gladiators yesterday, just self-satisfied parliamentarians keen to give each other a pat on the back. Three cheers for democracy, the political process and all of that stuff.
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Yay for the 18th Amendment. Democracy is the best revenge, etc. But Pakistanis love a little masala with their politics, so let’s look for some. Was that Shaukat Tarin on the floor of the house, thumping his desk when the president mentioned the NFC award? Hadn’t he resigned his Senate seat, too, after quitting the finance minister’s post? Guess the perks of a banker don’t compare to that of a senator. Oh, and did Zardari take a dig at the Supreme Court by thanking Babar Awan and his ministry for helping Raza Rabbani and his committee? Can’t be? When was the last time you heard Awan and his ministry mentioned in the same breath? Right, when the Attorney General resigned, claiming said minister and ministry were interfering in the implementation of the NRO judgment. Oh never mind, must be a coincidence. Like the president said, Awan is helping ensure all institutions are working together to strengthen democracy. Raza Rabbani had his back to me but the cameras caught his mouth drop when Zardari thanked Awan and the law ministry first — the more decent among them will be scratching their heads and trying to figure out what exactly they have done to earn such fulsome praise — and Raza next. Rumour has it Zardari had to be prodded and pushed to include specific thanks to Raza in his speech. Why? This is Islamabad: pettiness reigns. Kayani was seated just a few yards from his — boss? Sounds odd, even when you write it. Good thing the speech lasted only 30 minutes: the inscrutable general gets the smoker’s itch before the hour is up. Imagine the headlines if he walked out mid-speech for a smoke. (The floor of the assembly is a no-smoking area, unlike, now, the conference room in GHQ where the corps commanders meet. Kayani, with a hint of embarrassment, recently revealed it was his first decision as army chief.) And bored everyone may have been by the time Zardari got to the bromides about wanting a strong Pakistan that has good relations with its neighbours, but Kayani could have tried to suppress his ill-timed yawn. We already know who runs foreign policy; no need to rub it in parliament’s face. The general remained expressionless, though, when Zardari talked of the fight against militancy on a day more people died. So did Anne Patterson, whose consulate in Peshawar had been attacked only hours earlier. The rest of the evening was taken up by the bit players and the jesters. There was Marvi Memon, interjecting incomprehensibly. At the third interruption, someone behind me muttered, “Unguided missile” and everyone laughed. There was Fauzia Wahab, thumping her desk even before the president finished an applause line. She must have had an advance copy of the speech. There was Jamal Leghari, son of Farooq, screaming about respecting the judiciary and millions stashed abroad. But no one paid attention, such is the fixation of the Legharis when it comes to the Bhutto-Zardaris. Someone else behind me asked, “Who’s that in front of Farahnaz (Ispahani)?” It was Palwasha Khan. (It usually is when the question is asked somewhat breathlessly.) And before you knew it, the speech was over. Mercifully short in duration; not-so-forgivably short on substance. Here’s a tip for Zardari’s advisers: now that you’ve ironed out some of the problems with style, give us some substance, too. Democracy, great; 18th Amendment, terrific — but what’s next? Democracy, as some of the PPP’s media savvy members otherwise love to point out, is a process, not an event. But wait a minute, maybe democracy has arrived after all. Who’s that diminutive lady with blonde hair walking out with the plebs through the exit at the back of parliament? Surely that can’t be Anne Patterson, US Ambassador to Pakistan/proconsul (depending on who you ask)? It is her, sidestepping a limousine rushing to pick up a, presumably Pakistani, VIP. Maybe she used the wrong exit, a colleague offered helpfully. Or it could be parliamentary sovereignty in action. Happy walking, Ambassador Patterson.
By: Dawn News
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